Leveraging 3D and PLM to speed design and development
Connecting solutions such as 3D design and virtual prototyping with PLM systems can help create a digital supply chain and open up new opportunities, value and speed – but integration is key
“PLM and 3D applications must be integrated into a digital supply chain that connects all areas of the fashion enterprise,” says Mark Burstein, president of NGC Software. “This ensures collaboration and a seamless flow of information, connecting product development and sampling with every area of the value chain.”
Clayton Parker, director, PLM product management at US-based Gerber Technology, agrees, stating that “communication between software applications via integrations” is the best way of uniting a supply chain with PLM. Integration between tools hastens the design and development process, he says, noting that “PLM can’t do everything, but it can certainly help connect the tools and the data that is needed further down the supply chain.” He adds that it allows “key data from tech packs to be available during pattern development or the actual garment production timeline.”
Peter Leith, vice president of operations at iSync Solutions, notes that while uniting a supply chain with PLM can be complex, there are fully integrated PLM, ERP and sales management solutions delivering seamless collaboration between sales, design, manufacturing and purchasing.
“The key is visibility for all teams and the advent of 3D design provides clear insight not only for manufacturing but in supplying sales with key elements of new product designs. Tying in sales management and demand planning ensures that the supply chain is optimised throughout to successfully unite the supply chain with PLM functions.”
Challenges and pitfalls
Experts concede that uniting a supply chain with PLM poses various challenges and pitfalls but suggest there are various ways these can be avoided. Leith says technical and process challenges in successfully leveraging 3D design in PLM and supply chain integration include the creation of very large 3D modelling design files.
“Combine this with spotty internet coverage in many manufacturing regions, and staff in factories can have difficulty in retrieving the 3D designs. To mitigate this, systems need to be able to compress the files appropriately and have back-up 2D options in certain situations when time is of the essence.”
He adds that on the process side, additional time spent creating well-developed 3D modelling can help compress remaining design and manufacturing processes adhering closely to planned steps and timing. “In general, the benefits outweigh the challenges of implementing a successful 3D modelling, PLM and supply chain process,” he states.
Burstein adds that as when interfacing any two systems, data integrity between PLM and 3D systems can be a challenge, so mapping out the process ahead of time is critical. Companies must determine which elements of 3D are required to be in PLM and which are not necessary. “User adoption is also important, just as it is with any software implementation. Adoption from internal users will be best achieved if the most forward thinking and willing people are selected to use the technology first.”
The YuniquePLM V8 WebViewer integrates data and views from 3D CAD
Burstein argues that brands should operate closely with their PLM vendors. With 3D moving fast from a technology of the future to today’s tech used by an increasing number of fashion brands, a strong vendor-client relationship is important to manage these new solutions. Companies should leverage their vendor’s expertise in 3D and work closely with them, since most PLM vendors will have experience in 3D. “Working collaboratively with vendors will help save time, effort and money, as 3D samples take the place of physical samples,” he says.
Parker adds that a PLM solution will not solve every challenge that a company faces, so users should still phone or send an email when needed. However, a PLM solution can still be the best tool for most apparel companies to more easily track and manage the collaboration between their supply chain and their internal development teams: “Especially when last minute changes need to be made to a garment before it goes into production.”
“A PLM solution can still be the best tool for most apparel companies to track and manage the collaboration between their supply chain and their internal development teams” – Clayton Parker, Gerber Technology
Particular challenges exist for brands integrating manufacturers in emerging markets into their supply chains by using PLM.
However, these difficulties can be overcome, argues Burstein. “The first step is to evaluate the manufacturer’s processes, technology, pattern-making skills, construction proficiency and employee turnover,” he says. “Once the company and manufacturer are aligned, both must be committed to continual investment, training and engagement as 3D technologies are rapidly improving.”
However, unless both teams are dedicated to 3D as one cornerstone of product development, adoption will fail and force the companies back into the manual process of making physical samples, warns Burstein, while noting this is true in both emerging and established market countries when new technologies are introduced.
Leith says the pain is worth it, including when brands work with emerging market manufacturers. “While traditional manual, Excel-based tech packs can be effective, it is no replacement for the collaboration that can be gained from an integrated PLM solution.”
But how can brands manage data confidentiality and security with these new systems? Companies must clearly define the flow of data and system of record for each element, to protect its safety, says Burstein, taking care to determine the security structure that will ensure data is kept confidential for the right users and user groups.
Such planning is especially important, Leith adds, given the challenge of data integration to network bandwidth, particularly where many manufacturing locations are involved. “All data should be encrypted in flight and effective user rights management can provide confidence in the data provided throughout the supply chain.”
And how can these problems be efficiently managed? Who is in charge? “Effective data security policies and IT management will effectively mitigate the problems with extending PLM and 3D modelling throughout the supply chain,” stresses Leith.
“While the PLM solutions are primarily responsible for effective, secure data interchange, the brands also have a responsibility to manage their users and ensure rights are assigned and maintained on an ongoing basis.”
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